Insurance, Defense of Marriage Act, and Criminal Competency Bills Highlighted
Austin - Legislation that The Woodlands Senator Tommy Williams says may lower the cost of health insurance for Texans by twelve to eighteen percent was approved by the full Senate today. SB 541 would allow insurers and health maintenance organizations to select which state-mandated health benefits to offer in their policies. Williams said that his bill will offer more affordable options for families and small businesses. Most large companies can already choose what coverages to offer because their insurance policies are governed only by federal law, according to Williams.
The Senate also approved of legislation today that deals with the termination and restoration of competency to stand trial. SB 1057, sponsored by Lubbock Senator Robert Duncan, would rewrite the criminal competency statute to streamline the process and ensure consistency in its application across the state. Duncan said that his bill gives the court two choices if a defendant is determined to be incompetent. If the charges are not dismissed, the person will be ordered by the district court to be confined or sent to a secure facility if they are a danger to themselves or others. If the prosecutors choose to dismiss the charges, the district court will refer the case to a probate court, who will use statutory procedures to commit the person in the event they are a danger to themselves or others.
SB 7, referred to as the Defense of Marriage Act, passed a final vote of the Senate today. The act establishes a state policy in Texas that marriage is between one man and one woman and that Texas will not recognize civil unions or same-sex marriages that are entered into in other states. The bill's author, San Antonio Senator Jeff Wentworth, said that Texas will join 36 other states that have already established a similar policy if SB 7 is approved by the House and signed by the Governor.
The Senate also approved of legislation that would require school districts to implement policies detailing appropriate use of school counselors' time. SB 251, by Brownsville Senator Eddie Lucio, would adopt a policy on the appropriate use of counselors and defines the role of counselors in the test assessment process.
The Senate passed additional education legislation, authored by Plano Senator Florence Shapiro, that would allow school districts to offer term contracts the first year a principal is employed with the district if the individual already has experience as a principal.
The Senate also approved of SB 1021, authored by San Antonio Senator Frank Madla, that would provide for the conversion of rural fire prevention districts to emergency services districts. Senate Joint Resolution 45 puts the proposed constitutional amendment to a vote of the people on November 4, 2003.
Other legislation passed by the Senate today:
- SB 266, by Senator Lucio, would continue the Board of Law Examiners for the standard twelve-year period and revise its administrative provisions.
- SB 644, by Senator Wentworth, would prohibit a governmental entity from disclosing personal information relating to certain persons who hold a private pesticide applicator license.
- SB 894, by Amarillo Senator Teel Bivins, would require school districts to supply information on dropout rates and the expenditure of compensatory education funds directly to the Texas Education Agency (TEA) on an annual basis in an electronic format. The bill would also require TEA to create a ranking system to review the information provided on a district-by-district basis.
- SB 1017, by Wentworth, would add a section to the Government Code to clearly state that a county may sue or be sued.
- SB 1280, would change the definition of an electric cooperative by removing language pertaining to successors to electric cooperative and allowing the Public Utility Commission to determine a schedule for certain utilities to transition to a competitive market.
- SB 1430, sponsored by Waco Senator Kip Averitt, would authorize additional interest to be charged for default on certain secondary mortgage loans.
The Senate will reconvene Wednesday, April 16, 2003, at 10:00 a.m.